What You Need to Know for Your First Trip to Cuba

Everything you need to know for before, during, and after your visit to Cuba.

As the years pass, travel to Cuba is becoming increasingly more popular. There are more shops and hotels geared toward tourists and much of the country’s income stems from tourism. Cuban people are friendly and outgoing. They are more than happy to help you find your way or strike up a conversation. When I told my mom I was headed to Cuba, she was at first worried. “Isn’t Cuba dangerous?” She asked. I quickly answered no and explained what my research about traveling solo in Cuba has revealed. There is relatively little crime in Cuba and incredibly unique experiences to be had. Relish in it. You’re in Cuba!

Without a doubt, Cuba is unlike any other country out there. Cultural quirks to food to lifestyle, Cuba is by all means a world within itself. However, if Cuba has (justifiably so) landed a spot on your “to-travel” list, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. Read on for tips & tricks for planning your perfect Cuban adventure.

Sign outside the National Hotel

Passport, Visas, Insurance

Make sure your passport to completely updated and has a few vacant pages. Travel insurance is required when entering Cuba. I bought mine when I bought my airfare. You’ll also need international medical insurance and a visa. There are several outlets where you can get medical insurance at a relatively low cost. You can also order your visa ahead of time or some airlines allow you to purchase it at the gate. Be sure to print out physical copies that prove you have all these things. You might be asked for proof when going through customs in Cuba and it’s best not to rely on your phone for storing this information.

Don’t Count on Using Your Credit Cards

While relations between the U.S. and Cuba are improving, most credit card companies aren’t yet comfortable with extending their reach into Cuba. Some Europe-based companies are accepted so check with your bank if you think this might apply to you. The same goes for debit cards. Bringing good old cash is your best bet. There are places in Cuba where you can exchange American dollars into the Cuban currency. Keep in mind that there are two kinds of currency in Cuba: CUP and CUC. CUP are generally reserved for local use whereas CUC are used by tourists. 1 USD = 1 CUC, however, there is a hefty exchange rate of 10% tacked on if you’re converting directly from USD to CUC. It’s best to convert to pounds, pesos or euros before landing in Cuba then make the exchange for one of those currencies.

Havana, Cuba

Limited Internet Access

Although it’s gotten better, there is very limited access to Internet in Cuba. At some hotels connection rates are as high as 12 dollars per hour. It’s best to not rely on having Internet access while there so plan your trip accordingly. Several Internet hotspots have popped up throughout the city in the past few years. There is a service called Nauta that grants Internet access for $1.50 an hour. However, these services tend to be slow and unreliable. Enjoy being disconnected.

Make Sure You Bring from Home…

International visitors are charged exorbitant prices for some items. Things like pain killers, sunscreen, tooth paste, insect repellent, and a plug adaptor if you’re coming from Europe.

Prep Yourself for Public Transportation

You have two options here: taxis or walking. Say you’re traveling from one part of Havana to another, the taxi ride won’t be that expensive. Renting a car can be pricey — up to $100 per day. You can also explore using buses, bikes, and horse-drawn carriages for tours throughout some larger cities on the island. If you’re moving city to city, you’re most reliable option is Viazul, a bus company designed for tourists.

Streets of Central Havana

There is Only a Vague Concept of Time (Embrace It)

Odds are the common ways in which you think about time will not be applicable in Cuba. The stories you hear about there being little concept of time in the country and that Cubans tend to always be late are generally true. It’s so vastly different than our relationship to time in other countries that its best to just embrace it.

Consider Bringing Gifts

When initially researching Cuba, I found this curious. I read stories of people traveling in Cuba trading bars of soap for a cigar. Tinned tuna is a popular, but expensive thing to eat there. Clothing from American brands and anything pertaining to baseball are also favored items.

Trinidad, Cuba

About the Food and Water

Tap water in Cuba is not generally safe for consumption and bottle water can be hard to come by. A good option is to bring your own internally filtered water bottle that you can fill up periodically throughout the day. As far as food, you have many options. For the most authentic experience, most hosts of Casa Particulares will cook for you for a small price. Cafeterias, various markets, and restaurants scatter larger cities like Havana. Cafeterias tend to be the cheapest while some restaurants can cost upwards of 15 CUC per meal.


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